Happy 112th Birthday, Una Merkel!

In Herman Raucher‘s coming-of-age novel Summer of ’42, his teenaged protagonist (perhaps not coincidentally named … Hermie) has a big crush not on Lana Turner, Betty Grable, or Rita Hayworth, but on Penny Singleton, best known for portraying Blondie, wife to Arthur Lake‘s Dagwood in a long series of comic B-pictures.

Hermie was a little bit embarrassed by his preference in movie stars, but he figured there was not as much competition that way.

We have a similar little thing for Una Merkel, whose 112th birthday it is today. Una came to specialize in playing wise (and sometimes wisecracking), loyal second bananas to the leading ladies in films of the Pre-Code Era, but she was certainly not without her own charms, not the least of which was her Southern drawl.

Una Merkel

Ironically enough, it was Una who was first slated to play Blondie in that popular series of films before the role was finally awarded to Singleton.

Merkel was born Una Kohnfelder in Covington, Kentucky (we’ve long wondered at the choice of Merkel to replace Kohnfelder. It doesn’t seem the typical choice for a studio-concocted screen name) and began her career in silent movies. She’s listed in some sources as having appear in a 1924 short called Love’s Old Sweet Song and a feature film produced in Texas that same year called The Fifth Horseman. This now-lost (and good riddance) picture was an entry in the then-active genre of pro-Ku Klux Klan films, so perhaps the less said about it, the better. (We hope and trust our Una was just in it for the money.)

Merkel is said to have resembled Lillian Gish during the early years of her career, and she served as her stand-in for a while (on the 1928 classic The Wind, among others). After some time on Broadway, she was back before the cameras, portraying Anne Rutledge in D. W. Griffith‘s 1930 biopic, Abraham Lincoln.

As the years passed, Merkel got to stretch out a bit and her career showed staying power (her final role final role was in 1968, on the popular television program I Spy). Along the way, she appeared in Jean Harlow‘s final picture, Saratoga (1937), indulged in a hair-pulling catfight with Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939), and even appeared in the 1961 Disney comedy The Parent Trap as the Evers’ family’s housekeeper.

But our crush stems from her work in the 1930s, when she was every glamour gal’s best pal in movies such as Red-Headed Woman, 42nd Street, and Bombshell.

Here’s a scene from the latter picture, featuring our Una opposite Harlow and Louise Beavers.

This is a revised version of a post that was originally published on Dec 10, 2013.

Wowed by Warren William

Though he may not be well remembered by your average Jill or Joe, for movie buffs, Warren William is an icon of talkies-era Hollywood—especially the pre-code years.

Though he played a few good guys, William’s typical character ranged from rouĂ© to to slimeball. He is, for fans of 1930s cinema, the man we love to hate. As Roger Fristoe wrote for tcm.com, “William played his fast-talking, opportunistic characters with such style and dash that Depression-era audiences often found themselves rooting for him.”

William’s characters were not fellows you’d trust with your sister—or your wife. Or your girlfriend. Or your cousin. Or your mother. But he had a slimy sort of savoir-faire that makes him but irresistible to on the screen, silver or small.

We rarely pass up an opportunity to see a Warren William picture, and neither should you. He’s the featured star today—Thursday, August 30—during TCM’s August Under the Stars festival. If you’re familiar with Warren’s work, you’re bound to find a title or two you’ve not seen among the 16 pictures being shown during his 24 hours in the spotlight.

And if you’ve not yet been exposed to William, set that alarm clock or DVR to ensure you don’t miss a minute of the fun, which kicks off at 6 a.m. ET with 1934’s Bedside, a prime pre-code that will serve a fine introduction to William’s slithery charms.

Ninety-nine years Young

Today marks Loretta Young’s 99th birthday.

She enjoyed a long, fruitful career that began in the era of silent movies (she appeared in two pictures in 1917, when she was all of four years old) and ended in 1994, when she was 81, and she certainly made many memorable movies, The Bishop’s Wife and The Farmer’s Daughter among them. But our favorites among her oeuvre include the noir-ish 1951 thriller Cause for Alarm! and, especially, the many pictures she made in the late 1920s and early ’30s.

Surely few women have ever appeared more beautiful on-screen than Young did in those pre-code days.

Here’s more on Young’s life and career.